How Webb's whistle wins World Cup votes
"I think what you do to referees is nothing short of criminal. I've looked at (a replay) 24 times and still couldn't get it right. (A referee) makes a decision in the heat of the moment, with 30,000 people shouting - it should be emphasised how hard it is to referee a football match."
The quote comes from an interview/savaging Brian Clough gave to John Motson 30 years ago (my thanks to The Guardian for rediscovering it). Can you imagine a manager saying that today? No, me neither.
Far more likely is what happened on BBC Radio 5 live on Monday when Aston Villa's Martin O'Neill challenged Crystal Palace boss Neil Warnock's latest rant against officialdom only for them to agree that all four goals in their FA Cup clash were preceded by bad decisions and therefore a draw was a fair result. Respek!
Given that level of public scrutiny, second-guessing and out-and-out hostility, what kind of person would choose to be a referee? Surprisingly normal ones, if my trip to the University of Warwick last week was anything to go by.
I was there to meet the most recent graduates from Project Future, a two-year education programme for talented young referees run by the Asian Football Confederation, and none of them struck me as unnaturally thick-skinned, masochistic or weird (see for yourself in my report below).
The five refs - an Australian, a Jordanian, a Qatari and two Chinese - were completing their training with a week-long visit to England, home of the world's most popular domestic football league and, apparently, the new finishing school for top refereeing talent.
Given the fact that you can't walk into a bar anywhere in Asia and not find a television showing middle-aged men discussing which players Chelsea should buy, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to learn that the likes of Howard Webb and Alan Wiley are big in Japan.
We should also not be surprised that the canny chaps at EPL HQ are quite keen to foster this popularity and encourage the idea England's top flight is "giving something back".
Project Future's class of 2009 were definitely grateful for the chance to spend time with Webb and co, who were gathered at Warwick for their fortnightly debrief, kickabout and fitness session, and were effusive in their praise for the Premier League's whistle-blowers.
Australian Jarred Gillett, the youngest referee working in the A-League, said he and his classmates could only benefit from spending time with this country's men in the middle. What impressed him most was their calm under fire, consistent decision-making and all-round professionalism: not something you hear every day in this job.
The laws of the game might be the same the world over but Gillett admitted the A-League rarely throws up the kind of split-second judgement call that will be talked about by millions for days to come. But then he has got to keep Kevin Muscat in line so he has his own cross to bear.
The evening before the Warwick session, the five Project Future referees had been to Villa Park to see Peter Walton send off Manchester United's Nani. Like every incident in a Premier League match, the ref had to make an instant decision, based on one viewing, in front of 40,000 vociferous fans and 22 charged-up players, and with 26 cameras pointing at him.
In this case, it was an easy decision and it was backed by both managers - an experience so unusual Nani should probably consider himself lucky not to be arrested for assault.
Elsewhere, however, refs were facing the usual gripes and moans, none more so than Webb, the man many consider to be this country's best ref. The World Cup-bound Yorkshireman was castigated by Liverpool's Steven Gerrard for failing to spot an iffy handball in the dying minutes of their 1-0 defeat by Arsenal.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard discusses the Respect campaign with Howard Webb at the Emirates last week
Webb is good but he can't be in two places at once. If he is on one side of a wall making sure it is the full 10 yards back, he can't also be on the other side to get a good view of which part of Cesc Fabregas's body Gerrard's free-kick struck. Such is life, Steven.
But we shouldn't feel too sorry for referees. I felt quite jealous watching the Premier League's finest kick a ball around (Mark Clattenburg can play a bit), lark about and generally look much closer to being professional sportsmen than yours truly.
And let's not forget, they are professional. The top guys are on over £80,000 (when you factor in European and international games), they travel in first class and they play a lot of golf in between gigs.
But professionalism has also raised the standard of refereeing, which explains why leagues and associations around the world are keen to tap into the Premier League's expertise.
Project Future is only part of the story. The league has long-standing relationships with the FAs from Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa (both Kiwi referees and the South African officiating at the World Cup this summer have spent time with the Premier League), and has recently appointed Keith Hackett as its refereeing ambassador.
Why do this? To make friends and influence people, of course. Schemes like Project Future, the brainchild of AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam, are money in the bank for a country bidding to host a World Cup.
The Premier League's apparent reluctance to back England's 2018 campaign made for great copy last year but was always a gross simplification of a more complicated picture. Bin Hammam knows the Premier League is on board and he's got a vote. My bet is he will be using it to vote "England" which means there is a good chance the five ambitious young refs I met last week will be back here on World Cup duty.
My pledge is to heed Cloughie's advice and remember how hard it is to referee a football match. Unless one of them misses a clear penalty for England, that is.